Is asking how many breakdowns you’ve had this lockdown the new way to say hello?
Over the weekend, I was chatting with a few friends and colleagues. “I’m on breakdown number 4; what are you on?” was a common theme of banter.
It got me thinking about the differences in the mindset of people who successfully keep their minds in check, despite what’s happening, and those who are not so fortunate. I’ve frequently pondered this in the context of prisoners too.
So, what exactly is happening to your brain while you are in lockdown? I found this awesome article, a little dated but still relevant.
Here’s the key summary~
- Your executive function skills are zapped — impacting decision making, memory, EQ, space, time and awareness. All of the routine things you do every day are fine because they’re biologically hardwired, but as soon as you need to do anything that requires higher-order planning or thinking outside the box, you’re likely to find this more difficult because of the need to use our frontal lobes for these sorts of tasks.
- Being under chronic stress means that our brain also constantly has to process this stress, so there’s a higher level of baseline activity going on. Aka being in overdrive.
- You could be sleeping more but worse.
- Your life doesn’t feel very rewarding at the moment. My brother said today he is experiencing helplessness, not being in control and a lack of freedom. While he knows other people or entire countries live this way on the daily, for him, it’s the first time he’s grasped the gravity of life beyond safe little NZ for vulnerable, oppressed, abused or victimised people. To quote him, “I haven’t understood what I thought I understood, but now I’ve experienced this, I get it, and it changes you”. The upside? Exponential growth in empathy and EQ for millions of people globally, all at once. Add this to your resume!
Why does this matter?
Once we understand what’s happening to our brain, it gives us space to stop ruminating and thinking there is something wrong with us, or like we should be able to do better. We can chill for a minute and remember that being in lockdown is kind of like being chased by an invisible sabre-tooth tiger in terms of what’s happening to our biology.
What can you do to keep your brain as healthy as possible?
Make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin D, sunshine and exercise—even if that means having to put up with the discomfort of a mask while exercising.
Stay connected to people via phone calls or video chats rather than text messages if you live alone. Why? While texting someone activates the brain's reward pathway, it doesn’t lead to our brain releasing stress-reducing oxytocin. A phone call does both, so kick it old school and pick up the phone.
And don’t expect to be back to normal straight away when we’re out of lockdown. Many of us have been yoyo-ing in and out of lockdown. It reminds me of being on a yoyo diet, which never works out—I always end up fatter than I started when I do this. However, we have no control over the lockdown sitch, so we need patience. We will bounce back to normal if we do all these good things like exercise etc., but expect it to take weeks to months to feel normal again.
See this article for more details. It is a year old but completely relevant for those kiwis in their 4th week of lockdown, and Australians for whom lockdown is feeling like the new normal, and freedom was this thing we had before 2020.